Major Operas | Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

Verdi was an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare and Macbeth was the first opera based on his work. It premiered at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence on 14 March 1847, with Verdi himself conducting. Performances followed throughout Europe, including Madrid (1848), Vienna (1849), and New York (1858).

For the premiere in Paris, at the Théâtre Lyrique on 21 April 1865, Verdi revised the opera. This included several additions: an extra aria in Act II for Lady Macbeth, ‘La luce langue’ (‘The Weak Light’), two new choruses, a new duet for the Macbeths, a battle fugue and a ballet.

Composed: 1847; rev. 1864–65
Premiered: 1847, Florence
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei, after William Shakespeare

Act I

Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches, who declare that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then king of Scotland, while Banquo will father many future kings. The news arrives that Macbeth is to succeed the comdemned Thane of Cawdor. Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband about the predictions. The king, Duncan, is staying at their castle and she plots his murder. Macbeth returns and his wife reveals her plans. He is persuaded to carry out the murder but is racked with guilt. Lady Macbeth goes to incriminate the guards with the king’s blood. Banquo and Macduff arrive and discover Duncan’s body. All mourn and swear vengeance.

Act II

Macbeth feels uneasy as king, although Duncan’s son Malcolm has fled to England. Remembering the witches’ predictions for Banquo, he schemes with his wife to kill him and his children. Assassins carry out the murder but Banquo’s son Fleance escapes. That night the ghost of Banquo appears at a banquet. Only Macbeth can see the apparition. Macduff resolves to join Malcolm’s forces.


Macbeth revisits the three witches. They tell him to beware Macduff, but that he is safe until Birnam Wood rises against him. Macbeth enquires about Banquo and his apparition appears, along with royal sons. Lady Macbeth encourages him to murder Banquo’s offspring, as well as the family of Macduff.

Act IV

Macduff laments the loss of his wife and children. Malcolm arrives from England with a troop of soldiers and encourages Macduff to join him in his plan to kill Macbeth. Macduff joins the troops and, concealing themselves with branches, they approach the castle.

Lady Macbeth is guilt-ridden over her crimes. As she sleepwalks and describes the murders, she is overheard by members of staff. Macbeth, fearing his own death, is unmoved by the news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. Soldiers inform him that Birnam Wood appears to be approaching the castle.

The English troops storm the castle and Macduff confronts Macbeth. They fight and Macbeth dies, cursing the witches. Malcolm is crowned king.

Recommended Recording:
Macbeth, Zürich Opera; Franz Welser-Möst, conductor; TDK DV-OPMAC (DVD Region 0, PAL); Soloists: Paoletta Marrocu (Lady Macbeth), Luis Lima (Macduff), Thomas Hampson (Macbeth), Roberto Scandiuzzi (Banquo)

Personalities | Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic | Opera


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